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The return of first-line Kasperi Kapanen

This isn’t Kapanen’s first stint alongside Sidney Crosby. This time, will the placement finally stick?

NHL: NOV 27 Canadiens at Penguins
Sidney Crosby celebrates a goal against the Montreal Canadiens with Kasperi Kapanen on Nov. 27, 2021.
Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

During Penguins media availability on December 8, when asked how he was playing, Kasperi Kapanen answered “Terrible. Thanks.”

Heading into Saturday, Kapanen scored once and notched four assists through his last 12 games. He went from being a regular on the second line to seeing his ice time dip under 12 minutes for the first time this season (December 1, 5-2 loss to Edmonton) and skating alongside recent call-up Drew O’Connor on Pittsburgh’s fourth line.

But Kapanen just saw that ice time rapidly increase— for however long that may be.

Kapanen skated on the Penguins’ first line for two days prior to their Friday matchup against the host Washington Capitals, as soon as Pittsburgh announced that smoking-hot winger Jake Guentzel would be out week-to-week with an upper body injury.

This isn’t Kapanen’s first stint on Crosby’s wing at the top of the Penguins’ lineup— but none of them have lasted very long.

Here’s Crosby and Kapanen at 5v5 by the numbers, heading into Friday (courtesy of Natural Stat Trick):

  • Kapanen skated alongside Crosby on 52 different occasions since he joined the Penguins.
  • Kapanen has topped ten minutes of ice time alongside Crosby just four times before, all of which came during February of the season prior (February 2, Penguins at Capitals, 3-2 win; February 18, Islanders at Penguins, 4-1 win; February 25, Penguins at Capitals, 5-2 loss; February 27, Penguins at Islanders, 4-3 win).
  • Kapanen skated about 79 minutes alongside Crosby when the Penguins were leading or facing a tied score, but just over 19 when the team was trailing. When something isn’t working or the team is struggling, Sullivan has been quick in the past to pull him from Crosby’s wing.
New York Islanders v Pittsburgh Penguins
Crosby talks with Kapenen during a game against the Islanders on February 18.
Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

Plenty of skaters have gotten a tryout at Crosby’s wing, but Kapanen has become a unique case of a player getting repeated glimpses for just a few shifts at a time.

On Friday, he got his next chance in Washington— and he excelled. He was rewarded for skating over 17 minutes and staying by Crosby’s side the entire time with his first goal in six games.

But the Penguins never trailed in their 4-2 win over the Capitals in Washington. Will the Kapanen first-line placement stick this time, or will the first line fluctuate once again when the Penguins struggle?